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Completing Phantom's Revenge on time was a thriller in itself

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

By Monica L. Haynes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Eight months of cold, wet, backbreaking work for a 1-minute, 45-second thrill. It's the story you haven't heard. The PG takes you behind the scenes of The Phantom's Revenge! (Cue the music) The highly anticipated reincarnation of the much-beloved Steel Phantom opened last Friday, scaring the pants off those brave enough to take the new 232-foot plunge at 85 mph. However, the transformation began last September, just days after the park closed for the season.

Jim Esterly, left, and Mike Perriello, both of Deer Lakes, try out the thrill of The Phantom's Revenge, Kennywood's newest roller coaster, yesterday. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

During the final push to get the coaster completed, there were as many as 65 people working seven days a week, 10 hours a day, said Joe Latkovic, Kennywood's construction manager. In addition to the park's own crew, there were union ironworkers, carpenters and drillers.

"The initial phase was taking down the Steel Phantom, the loops, the inversions, the hillside," said Kennywood spokeswoman Mary Lou Rosemeyer.

The Phantom's Revenge is unique in that it combines the old portions built by one manufacturer, Arrow Dynamics Inc. of Utah, with the new sections built by another, Morgan Manufacturers of California. The Arrow-built car chassis remain while the new fiberglass bodies were produced by Morgan. There are two trains, each comprising seven cars. Each car holds four people. Currently, the park is running only one train because the other is not ready.

Perhaps the biggest undertaking was preparing the coaster's underground structure, which meant moving water, sewage and electric lines. A road had to be built to get heavy equipment to all the locations, and crews had to cut through the hillside to bring the track under the Thunderbolt. To bear the weight of the ride, they installed massive supports known as caissons.

"That was a huge part of the job, putting in the caissons. They have to be 10 feet into rock," Rosemeyer said.

In some cases, workers had to dig 32 feet deep to reach rock.

"The underground part of the Revenge was as much of a challenge if not more so than the actual coaster building," she said.

Extremely bad weather and the resulting muddy terrain made drilling the caissons very difficult, Latkovic said. Thousands of mounds of dirt had to be moved to do the job.

A crew of eight took about 3 1/2 weeks to paint the remaining track green to match the 2,368 feet of track that was added.

Work was completed on May 8. Testing the coaster was not as difficult because the old loading station and braking system were still in place, Rosemeyer said.

Latkovic, who endured bad weather and long work hours, said he was the first person to taste The Phantom's Revenge. But the bigger thrill is hearing the squeals and seeing the smiling faces of those who have stood in line for an hour to ride it.

"That's what makes it worthwhile," he said.

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